The one-sentence summary

People don’t always buy things for the reasons they think they do.


  • Subtitled How everything We Believe About Why We Buy Is Wrong, the book tries to explain why we don’t always buy things for the reasons we think we do. It uses neuromarketing, an intriguing marriage of marketing and science, to provide window into the human mind.
  • Buyology is defined as the subconscious thoughts, feelings, and desires that drive purchasing decisions. His main point is that conventional research doesn’t work to explain these decisions. Neither quantitative surveys nor qualitative groups correlate well with actual sales. We are a lot better at collecting data than doing anything useful with it.
  • His investigations are mildly controversial because they involve hooking respondents up to a range of wires or putting them in scanners. The two main techniques are SST (Steady State Topography) and FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). They effectively show which parts of the brain react to various stimuli.
  • His belief is that by better understanding our seemingly irrational behaviour we can gain more control of our actions.
  • Our mirror neurons make us imitate the actions we observe, which is why crazes and marketing phenomena catch on via copying.


  • His techniques reveal some interesting things, including:

    ~ Product placement doesn’t work, even though many companies spend a fortune doing it.

    ~ Warnings about the perils of smoking can increase smoking because they unintentionally trigger all the (nice) cues that people associate with it.

    ~ $12 billion is spent on market research in the USA every year, and yet 8 out of 10 new products fail within the first three months, so it doesn’t really work.

    ~ The Pepsi Challenge misled marketers because it was sip test – drink a whole can and Coke still won.

    ~ Subliminal messages work, which is why people want to smoke more when in a Marlboro lounge containing imagery subtly reminiscent of the brand.

    ~ Rituals work, as in the 119.53 seconds it takes to pour a pint of Guinness.

    ~ Strong brands excite the brain in the same way as religious images.

    ~ Sex detracts from decent branding. This is the Vampire Effect – sucking attention away from what ads are actually trying to say.


  • Not everyone approves of the research techniques because they feel too close to lab experiments.